Leadership / 04.13.18
Managing Great Remote Teams
Working from home is increasingly common in all kinds of businesses, including ticketing, which is an “in-person” profession in many ways. Just ask Justin Karr and Lauren Vadino, who came to INTIX 2018 in Baltimore to share their experiences managing remote workers. They’ve been with Jujamcyn Theaters since the beginning of the millennium. After nearly two decades, they know nearly everything there is to know about their business. This includes getting the best of employees — whether they work in the same office or thousands of miles away.
Jujamcyn owns the iconic Al Hirschfeld Theatre and four other Broadway venues. “We have to maintain seven-days-a-week, 12-hour supervision or support for all five ticket offices,” says Karr, who does his job primarily from a desk in New York City. Vadino, however, lives and works off Broadway — really “off” Broadway — from her home in Pennsylvania. Jujamcyn also employs people remotely in places like California, Colorado and even Ireland.
Vadino was a theatre operations manager with Jujamcyn in New York for five years when she decided she wanted to return home to be closer to her family and start one of her own. “I was really heart-broken,” she recalls. “I love Jujamcyn and I love Broadway, but there was no way I could see the relationship continuing short of Jujamcyn acquiring a theater in Philadelphia.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, after a short stint working remotely in customer service, the opportunity to do the same, but in ticketing, came up. “My dream of working for Jujamcyn in my state came true. I'm very happy that I still get to work for the company I love from my home. It's super convenient.”
What makes remote work, work?
In thinking about what makes remote work possible, Karr and Vadino concluded that it’s not much different than traditional work. It all comes down to good management: things that make teams run well. In a nutshell, put remote first and then set goals, establish trust and communicate, communicate, communicate.
“Communication is ultimate,” says Vadino. “If communication does not work, nothing will work. It's the most important thing. If communication is extraordinary, you have a little bit of wiggle room on the other things.”
If communication is the most important thing, trust, says Lauren, is a close second.
“Remote work means working without someone over your shoulder, so trust is huge. We want to always give the others the benefit of the doubt, which we call ‘charitable assumption.’ If the outcome to a situation is not what you expected, or you see it as a mistake, approach them with trust and respect, and perhaps offer to help fix the situation.”
“You want to set goals and objectives,” adds Karr. “You want to make sure you are observing outcomes, not the work that got put into something. With remote work, that is essential. There is no way, short of putting a webcam on somebody's keyboard, to make sure they are working. You need to measure results.”
Essential tools are essential
Sending people off to work remotely without giving them the tools they need to do the job wouldn’t make much sense. The remote managers at Jujamcyn have given this a lot of thought. “What makes a great tool,” Karr paraphrases an old joke, “is something that actually works.”
The Jujamcyn managers have spent a lot of time thinking about and evaluating tools that work for remote workers, and these are some of their favorites:
- DropBox − “Sharing files is essential,” says Vadino. “We work on the same documents and we share the same documents, so we use DropBox. We love that it has file locking and we get notifications when people edit and save files.”
- Slack − For chat, the Jujamcyn team uses Slack. “We have separate Slack channels for separate projects,” says Vadino. “All five theaters have a different channel, different shows have different channels, and we even have an INTIX channel that we use to communicate at the conference.”
- Trello − “It’s a shared note space, like the big white board in your physical office, but on our computer screens,” says Vadino. “We have weekly to‑do lists, contact sheets, all kinds of things.”
- Zoom − “We use Zoom for video chat. It’s also important for screen sharing, because we are not physically in the office together to teach each other how to do things, so we share screens, we jump on, we drive on each other's computers and it makes learning new processes and working much easier,” says Vadino.
- ZenDesk − “We use this for our customer service work. Patrons send us emails and they go into ZenDesk, which is designed specifically for responding to patrons answering tickets.”
The Jujamcyn team can access their ticketing solutions (Ticketmaster and STAR) remotely. They use Google Docs and ensure that everyone is using the same electronic signature technology for official documents. Vadino also recommends keeping software up to date and ensuring everyone on your team has the same version of Windows, Office and so on.
“Remote IT support is key as well,” says Vadino. “Being able to contact someone at the touch of a button to say, ‘I'm not able to connect,’ for example. We have a great IT support team with whom we can chat at the touch of a button. They can then jump on my computer, log in and fix the problem from a distance.”
Vadino also says not to underestimate the importance of a good chair, keyboard, headset and monitor.
Hiring remote workers
More than 4 million Americans work remotely. That’s more than double what it was a decade ago, and the number continues to rise as people look for opportunities that better suit their lives. This gives Jujamcyn and other organizations access to a much larger pool of talent. But, Karr says the best-case scenario is when someone like Vadino, who is already well known to the company, asks to go remote. Another option, he says, is to hire someone for the office, with the intent of having them work remotely maybe six months down the road, after you’ve had a chance to establish a relationship.
“In my experience,” says Karr, “hiring people fully remote without them having spent much time in the beginning in the office does not work great, except in situations where you already have a critical mass of remote people and your culture is fundamentally remote.”
Regardless of how you hire remote workers, Karr says, a formal proven training program is essential. Part of that training, he adds, should be encouraging people to use their own initiative. “It’s better to take action on something as opposed to sitting on it,” he says. “Managers prefer you do first and ask questions later. But, you need to make sure you know what you are doing and take responsibility for your actions.”
For all the benefits of remote working, there is also a downside. State and local employment laws vary. You can’t always step in to fix a problem. It may also be more difficult to make a lateral move within an organization.
Building a remote team culture
“What is not hard,” says Karr, “is esprit de corps. It is not hard to have a fun team that enjoys working together remotely.” One way to develop a team culture, he says, is to give lots of positive reinforcement and always keep remote workers fully informed. “Over communicate as a manager. Tell them the rumors, tell them when a new show might be coming that might be of interest or that they may have to work on. When a super-hot show that is hyper-confidential might extend, tell them everything. It pays for itself in terms of the trust you get.”
He also recommends regular team meetings and social events. “With Lauren, we try to get her in every month with the ticket offices, we try to see her every two weeks. Again, no matter where our remote workers are, we get everyone together every three months or so. We all just hang out and work together for a few days and do fun things. That's how we make remote work at Jujamcyn.”
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Tags: Ticketmaster , Theater , INTIX 2018 , Broadway